George Bush must go! His administration is once again pushing to “de-list” endangered species, this time the Gray Wolf and Grizzly Bear. This would, of course, effectively eliminate the protection the two species have enjoyed since 1973 when the Endangered Species Act was passed.
Why is this happening? These animals are still rare and far below their original numbers. The two predatory mammals have, however, experienced something of a rebound since 1973, thanks to ESA, and the current situation is such that small pockets of their former ranges have slowly regained what could be construed as healthy populations. Historically though, the animals’ ranges have been vast and nearly all northern states enjoyed numbers of both. Since the turn of the century however, the numbers have fallen so drastically that the animals were all but extinct in the lower 48 states by the 1970s. Now, if I'm not mistaken, only two or three states have any at all. The cause of the decline was obviously loss of habitat and persecution by humans. No one seems to like a carnivore in their neighborhood... Does these sound like a good candidates for de-listing?
Let's go back 30 years. Enter the Endangered Species Act. Large areas, deemed crucial to the recovery of particular species were protected from development and hunting while simultaneously plans were made for a long-term reintroduction projects. Humans had done something noble – they had decided that another organism needed space and were making efforts to preserve lands. Populations began to crawl up from zero. Ecologists were encouraged. Perhaps there was hope for the remaining animals after all.
But now the Grizzly Bear and Gray Wolf have been deemed “in sufficient numbers” and therefore “recovered” by Washington. They no longer need protection apparently. The problem is more complex than politicians think however. How, for example, does one define a healthy population? Is it simply a "head count" of wolves or bears in an area? While numbers are indeed up from 30 years ago, they hardly qualify as full recoveries and the species are certainly far from out of danger. Their former ranges were far larger than they are now and the total number of wolves and bears is still down by many hundreds. The headcount approach also makes no allowance for the health of the larger eco-community and tends to create giant, outdoor zoos where animals become safe, but isolated in "forest islands". While their numbers may be up in these areas, all around them valuable national forest is targeted for development or logging. To remove the Endangered Species status that protected the two animals and their habitat will put them in danger all over again. But if by some miracle their numbers remain stable after the endangered status is removed we should not consider it evidence that they are safe. They deserve continued protection and large enough areas to fully recover their original numbers.
The Bush administration, I fear, is not sophisticated enought to understand the complexities of conservation.
Animals and plants do, after all, exist in highly complex ecological groups. With the apparent extinction of these predators, populations of deer have exploded, causing a chain reaction that begins with the loss of foliage in the under story of the forest, continues with the failure of an area to provide suitable habitat for nesting or migrating birds and could be shown to have an effect on insect populations or even top soil conditions. To say that the two mammals have rebounded enough to deny them the protection they have had for 30 years is naive at best. The rest of the community depends on a return balance, not simply a few representatives of a species.
With policy decisions like this, one has to question the motivation of the source. We have already witnessed the Bush administration's preference for industrial development and financial gain over the environment, which has not so subtly out-voiced any lip service he may have given to conservation. Isn’t anyone thinking about the environment in Washington? All I hear is arguments about why we should drill for oil and cut down old growth forests in protected area. It sounds to me like politicians simply want development to pickup where it left off and industry to go on polluting with as little “red tape” as possible. With the overturning of the Clinton-era "roadless rule" for National Forests and his continued efforts to eliminate the endangered species status of species like Spotted Owl, Marbled Murrelet, Gray Wolf and Grizzly Bear a pattern becomes clear. With each judgement like this, the safety wall built around these precious animals and the irreplaceable forests that they need is removed, stone by stone... This reckless environmental policy must be voted out of Washington.
How embarrassing! Cricket and I found what we thought was a Brandt's Cormorant at Shoreline Lake this afternoon. We were pretty excited! The bird we saw was distinctly smaller headed and darker than the immature Double-crests also present on the lake. There appeared to be some slightly paler grayish tan coloration on the lower neck area, but the general impression was uniformly dark compared to the other birds. There was no orangey-yellow skin around the face and the bill was thinner and less hooked. We found the bird at the western end of the lake, but it moved closer to the center and fed actively for about 10 minutes and was a little hard to get a good look at. Eventually it took flight, landing closer to the golf course and behind the island from where we stood. We did not pursue it after that, but it may have remained after we left. As it flew, it held its neck more straightly than a Double-crest, but still had a slight jerk in the neck. The head appeared larger and heavier than the neck, but again, much less-so than a Double-crest...
I posted a report to SBB saying basically what I said above, and even posted some Loch Ness Monster-esque images for people to review. Well, the responses came back pretty quickly. What we actually had seen was a Pelagic Cormorant! A Pelagic Cormorant on the lake is indeed an uncommon thing indeed and I guess we should feel lucky to have found it. I just wish we had gotten the identification right. Oh, well...
I don't normally duplicate class field trip results in the news section, but I'll make an exception in this case since it refers to a few recently reported rare birds in the area. After the official class trip to Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Plant (SWPCP), many of us chose to make a stop at the intersection of State and Spreckles in Alviso. There we scanned the shallow pools for some of the recently reported rareties. We found no Stilt Sandpiper, but after some searching both Ruff and Pectoral Sandpiper were spotted and well seen by all. I managed to get some digiscope images of the Ruff, which I have posted in the gallery section of this site. Other birds found here (and along the train tracks) that were new for the day were two Wilson’s Phalarope, Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Western Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover and Burrowing Owl (thanks to Ashutosh!)
Finally, before heading home for lunch, Cricket, and I stopped at the Alviso Marina to find the Greater Roadrunner. She located it within a minute or two as it walked slowly along the edge of the pavement. When I joined her, the bird had disappeared into a large bush bordering the parking area. We waited, and soon Leonie Batkin joined us and we waited some more. Finally, all three of us got looks as the bird perched silently and became visible through a small gap in the branches. It wasn’t the best view in the world, but at least we saw it, the famous Alviso Roadrunner. Quite cool!
I wish I could remember exactly where I got this image and the accompanying caption... I'm just glad it isn't this difficult to "sex" human beings. Can you imagine... The caption was as follows:
"Sexing waterfowl: Once the cloaca is gently spread open, the sex of the waterfowl is easily determined..."
Once again, the Bush administration has demonstrated its knack for finding new ways to insult the environment. This article, published today in the New York times provides more fuel for the fire (I hope it's ok for me to include the article below. I do not take credit for the article and am including a link to NYTimes.com in good faith):
New Priorities in Environment
September 14, 2004
By FELICITY BARRINGER
Every fall, after raising their young near Teshekpuk Lake and the Colville River, tens of thousands of geese and
tundra swans leave the North Slope of Alaska for more
southerly shores. Some end their journey at the Pocosin
Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in the flatlands of North
Both habitats could be transformed if current Bush
administration initiatives come to pass. The birds would
have oil rigs as neighbors in Alaska and be greeted by Navy
jets simulating carrier takeoffs and landings in North
That such projects could bracket the birds' path is not
surprising in light of the priorities of the
administration. Over the last three and a half years,
federal officials have accelerated resource development on
public lands. They have also pushed to eliminate regulatory
hurdles for military and industrial projects.
From the start, Bush officials challenged the status quo
and revised the traditional public-policy calculus on
environmental decisions. They put an instant hold on many
Clinton administration regulations, and the debates over
those issues and others are intensely polarized.
The administration has sought to increase the harvesting of
energy and other resources on public lands, to seek
cooperative ways to reduce pollution, to free the military
from environmental restrictions and to streamline -
opponents say gut - regulatory and enforcement processes.
In a recent interview, Michael O. Leavitt, the
administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,
summed up the Bush administration's philosophy. "There is
no environmental progress without economic prosperity," Mr.
Leavitt said. "Once our competitiveness erodes, our
capacity to make environmental gains is gone. There is
nothing that promotes pollution like poverty."
The administration's approach has provoked a passionate
response. Asked about his expectations in the event of
President Bush's re-election, Senator James M. Jeffords,
the Vermont independent who is the ranking minority member
on the Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote in an
e-mail message: "I expect the Bush administration to
continue their assault on regulations designed to protect
public health and the environment. I expect the Bush
administration to continue underfunding compliance and
Mr. Jeffords concluded, "I expect the Bush administration
will go down in history as the greatest disaster for public
health and the environment in the history of the United
For many environmental groups, Mr. Bush's legacy was
assured in his first year, thanks to highly publicized
decisions that effectively repudiated Clinton
administration positions. Mr. Bush backed off a campaign
pledge to regulate carbon dioxide and abandoned the 1997
Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to reduce
heat-trapping gases linked to global warming. Then the
administration pushed, unsuccessfully, for a law allowing
oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It
scrapped the phaseout of snowmobiles in Yellowstone
National Park and briefly dropped a Clinton proposal to cut
the permissible level of arsenic in drinking water by 80
The cumulative effect was striking. The decisions sought to
reverse environmental action for which there was broad
support. Polls by The New York Times in mid-2001 and late
2002 consistently showed public opposition to drilling in
the Arctic refuge. A CBS poll in the same period showed
that, by ratios of better than two to one, those polled
said that environmental protection was more important than
The outcry ensured that some Bush administration
initiatives favorable to the cause of environmental groups
received little notice. They include the E.P.A.'s decision
to force General Electric to spend hundreds of millions of
dollars to remove PCB's in the Hudson River, a cleanup that
has been delayed; legislation speeding the cleanup of urban
industrial sites known as brownfields; increases in
financing for private land set aside for conservation of
animals and their habitats; and the first limits for diesel
emissions in trucks and off-road vehicles.
The diesel regulations, said James F. Connaughton, chairman
of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, would
have as much impact on air quality as the rules that
eliminated leaded gasoline. The clamor over the reversals,
he said, "grossly overshadowed the accomplishments, which
in scope and scale were of far greater consequence to
environmental protection and natural resource conservation
than anything people were complaining about."
The administration contends that free markets often provide
the best solution to pollution. That belief underlies
regulatory proposals to allow power plants that exceed
their goals in reducing pollutants to sell cleanup credits
to plants that fall short.
The failed "Clear Skies" act, incorporating this approach,
was in many ways reborn in a pending regulation that Bush
officials say would offer significant pollution reductions
and that critics dismiss as a retreat from the mandates of
the Clean Air Act.
Mr. Leavitt called the reasoning simple. "Rather than spend
decades and millions litigating" to ensure power plants'
compliance one at a time, "let's require everyone to do it
essentially at the same time," he said. "And create
incentives for them to do more as opposed to incentives to
try to avoid."
Mr. Jeffords countered, "The relaxed Bush approach will
produce more illness, disease and premature deaths than
simply putting the federal government's full resources into
achieving compliance with the Clean Air Act and pushing the
development of cleaner, more efficient electricity
The recent proposals for Alaska and North Carolina reflect
some of the themes of the administration's overhaul of
In 1998, Bruce Babbitt, President Bill Clinton's interior
secretary, opened to oil drilling four million acres of the
National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. That is 87 percent of
the landmass of the reserve's northeast quadrant. The
580,000 acres held back, including Teshekpuk Lake, were
considered crucial wetlands habitat for molting and nesting
fowl - swans, geese, peregrine falcons and other species -
and for caribou and the hunters who live off them. But
geological surveys show that large volumes of oil lie
beneath much of that area. In June, the Interior Department
proposed opening the lake and most of the remaining acreage
to drilling, because, Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton
said recently, "that's where the resource is."
Well before that proposal, a panel of the National Research
Council, a private, nonprofit institution, issued a mixed
report on the cumulative effects of 40 years of oil
development on the North Slope. Bird populations, it found,
dwindled as the numbers of predators like foxes and brown
bears grew unnaturally large. The predators were drawn to
the area by oil-field garbage.
Edward Porter, research manager for the American Petroleum
Institute, said the situation was unlikely to recur around
Teshekpuk Lake because the exploration envisioned would
have few permanent facilities.
At the birds' other way station, in North Carolina, the
prospective disturbances would be the latest F/A-18 E/F
Super Hornet jet fighters, which would touch down and take
off from a new airfield 31,650 times each year.
A Fish and Wildlife Service advisory in March raised
concern; the noise of a jet taking off is two to four times
greater than the level that startles such birds into
flight. During their winter sojourn, the birds accumulate
the fat that fuels their next migration. The more jets
startle them into flight, the more they burn fat needed for
The Navy's review concluded that the birds "would not be
affected." Navy officers also argued that the risk of
collisions between birds and planes - which is estimated to
be higher than at any other airfield in the country - could
When local North Carolinians and the Audubon Society went
to court to block the project, the administration closed
ranks, and the Interior Department, the parent agency of
the Fish and Wildlife Service, supported the Navy. A United
States District Court judge has temporarily blocked the
Navy from proceeding.
In many ways, the issues in the birds' neighborhoods speak
to the aims, tactics and results of the Bush environmental
strategy as much as the better-known inventory of
decisions, like the scuttling of the Clinton ban on new
roads in 58.5 million acres of roadless national forests.
Environmentalists, for example, accuse the administration
of trying to pressure or ignore its scientists, from those
of the Pocosin biologists in North Carolina to
Environmental Protection Agency scientists working on
global warming. In several instances at the agency and at
the Fish and Wildlife Service, political appointees
aggressively policed agency scientific work that could form
the basis of new regulations.
Administration officials, some of whom were lobbyists for
the industries they now regulate, say the crucial factors
in their thinking are scientific rigor and economic logic.
Such priorities were cited in the proposal to expand
drilling in Alaska.
The effort to offer the set-aside section of the Alaska
petroleum reserve for leasing parallels moves across the
West. Bureau of Land Management offices and their land-use
plans have been re-engineered to streamline leasing and
drilling decisions. From the beginning of the fiscal year,
the number of drilling permits has increased to 5,222, the
bureau reported. If that pace continues, the annual total
will be more than 50 percent higher than the average in the
previous three years.
Ms. Norton says that "less than one percent of the surface
acres of the Bureau of Land Management have any disturbance
for oil and gas production." With new safeguards for
wildlife and technologies allowing several wells to branch
underground from one well pad, both energy and
environmental needs can be satisfied, she said.
The means by which energy development accelerated, like the
revamping of land-use planning guidelines, is pretty dry
stuff. So are procedural questions; for example, when a
local office should clear decisions with headquarters. In
the Bush years, officials have relied more on less-visible
administrative action than on legislation to advance their
agenda. For instance, local Army Corps of Engineers offices
have been instructed to check with headquarters before
taking jurisdiction over wetlands slated for development, a
process that critics say discourages wetlands protection.
The administration had developed a draft proposal to
curtail federal wetlands jurisdiction but had to back off
after it was disclosed last fall and conservative hunters
and fishermen blanched. At a White House meeting, leaders
of fishing and hunting groups argued that the plan would
degrade large tracts of wetlands and diminish nearby
wildlife. Mr. Leavitt quickly repudiated the draft. Last
Earth Day, President Bush, standing by salt marshes in
Maine, called for a net gain in wetland acreage.
Last fall, Mr. Leavitt, the former governor of Utah, took
over from Christie Whitman. She had resigned as E.P.A.
administrator after two years as what Secretary of State
Colin L. Powell called a "wind dummy" - a reference to the
buffeting she took for the administration's unpopular
The portfolio of issues Mr. Leavitt inherited is not in the
same stage it was in in January 2001, at the start of the
Bush administration. Many of the administration's
environmental policies have laid a foundation for more
comprehensive actions in a second term. Critics are
convinced that efforts to increase oil and gas drilling on
federal lands will accelerate, as will efforts to change
laws like the Endangered Species Act.
Ms. Norton acknowledged that the issue of opening the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for example, would
resurface because "that it is our largest prospect for
onshore oil." She added, "There will be extensive
Asked if she would have done anything different in the last
few years, she said: "I would have spent more time talking
about our successes. Because we've accomplished a lot more
than we've ever gotten credit for."
In preparation for an upcoming class field trip, I made a quick scouting trip to SWPCP. Time was limited, so I took the levy between the two main ponds and turned around after meeting the junction. It was pretty windy and my brand new hat blew off into the green sludge.... Yuck! Hopefully it will wash out. Anyway, a large flock of American White Pelican rested on the far east edge of east pond and two Brown Pelicans flew above them and came to rest on the water. Ruddy Duck were conspicuous, with many males still wearing bright chestnut. Most however, have acquired their basic plumage. Mallards, Gadwall and Northern Shovelers dominated the duck scene, several Cinnamon Teal and three Blue-winged Teal made an appearance near the junction. Scattered Northern Pintail were seen as well. One American Wigeon, a male, rested on the northeast edge of the west pond. Red-necked Phalaropes were in abundance, with at least one hundred on the west pond. Least Sandpiper were numerous, with several groups of 50 birds whizzing past me at various times. Two Wilson's Phalaropes were present as well. The shorebird highlight was a single Lesser Yellowlegs seen in flight as it flew north past me on the channel. Two Dowitchers, dashed away over west pond, no vocals, no id... Gulls present included loads of Ring-billed and California with a few Western toward the center of the water. Only a few raptors were observed, a single Red-tailed Hawk, a Northern Harrier and a White-tailed Kite. I also heard a single Virginia Rail at the north end of the levy. Passerines included numerous Brown-headed Cowbirds, Red-winged and Brewer's Blackbirds, Savannah and Song Sparrow, a Common Yellowthroat as well as about 5 Barn Swallows and a single Violet-green Swallow.
A small group from class (Ashutosh Sinha, Kay Matthews, Anne Creevy and Esther Litton) joined me and my friend Brian, for a pelagic trip on Monterey Bay with Debi Shearwater on one of her boats. We all took precautions to avoid seasickness and I'm happy to report that no one experienced the dreaded sickness! Conditions were mild, in fact quite beautiful on the bay, with clear skies, very little wind and warm temperatures. Debi said it's a rare trip indeed when she doesn't need to wear a heavy coat on the bay so that says a lot right there. While some species were missed, such as any Loons, Grebes or Murrelets, a nice representation of Tubenoses were located and the full complement of Jaegers! We began by sailing south from the harbor to Point Pinos and Point Lobos then out to deeper waters west and north toward Soquel Canyon off of Santa Cruz and back to Monterey Bay Fisherman's Warf. The boat set sail at 7:30 and returned to dock at about 3:30. We began seeing Red-necked Phalarope, Pigeon Guillemot and Elegant Tern immediately, followed quickly by Common Murre and Northern Fulmar, Sooty Shearwater and other pelagic species as we entered deeper water. Details are fading now, but it was obvious at the time that diverent areas hosted different species. Some areas were heavy with Alcids, while others hosted multitudes of Shearwaters. In addition, some areas produced many Jaegers while still others, completely separate, produced numerous Storm-Petrels. Debi seemed unsurprised by this situation and apparently has a pelagic map hardwired into her brain that describes the birds at each and every point on the bay. It really was nothing less than astounding! Bonus birds that are never guarantees on a September trip were two species of Storm-Petrel, South Polar Skua (did I happen to mention how cool the Skua was? This massive, muscular bird chased the off-shore Gulls like they were made of paper and straw, ripping through the group like so much newsprint, convincing them to "volunteer" a meal... I know that's mixing metaphors, but so what. Wow anyway!) and an alternate plumaged Tufted Puffin! I felt a bit cheeky at having called several "good" birds, including the day's only Puffin and three Jaegers, during the voyage which had no less than 5 seasoned guides on board. I tried very hard to test myself on the boat, calling out birds when I saw them, even trying to identify some Cetaceans... Still, I have a lot to learn about seabirding and look forward to more group outings like this. I hope everyone enjoyed themselves as much as I did. Afterward, Brian and I enjoyed some clam chowder on the stone wall by the water. Perhaps next time we could all sit down and eat at one of the seafood joints on the wharf and talk about what we've seen. Sadly, no lifers for me this time... but no matter, my heart always races at the site of an Albatross gliding effortlessly over the waves.
Black-vented Shearwater (seen by some)
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel (seen by some)
Surfbird (seen by some)
South Polar Skua
Long-tailed Jaeger (seen by some)
California Sea Lion
Northern Fur Seal
Northern Right Whale Dolphin
Pacific White-sided Dolphin
As if any of us needed more evidence that the man in the Whitehouse is an enemy of the environment... The following article, published today on SFGate.com, will prove upsetting to all of those who care about our national wildlife. A recent decision will have profound repercussions and directly impact our local population of Marbled Murreletes by removing the protection they have enjoyed since the passing of the Endangered Species Act. By genetically lumping the local birds with the population in the north, where there populations are greater, the Marbled Murrelet in the lower 50 states will lose it's protection. It seems a transparent means to open the areas currently closed to logging by claiming the forests are not significant to the preservation of the species. Efforts have already been made to make the same claims about Spotted Owl. Some of you already know how strongly I object to the current administration and its policies, both foreign and domestic, so it should come to no surprise that I am looking forward to the election in November when we will have a chance to vote out the destructiveness and foolishness that has characterized the past 18 months of its office. One need only remember the overturning of the Clinton-era "Roadless Rule", which preserved our National Forests from logging interests, and the continuous and intense pressure to drill in Alaska's precious (and irreplaceable) ANWR region, the abandonment of the Kyoto treaty, which made bold international steps toward the reduction of greenhouse gases, or the loosening of clean air legislation for power companies in California and other states (making it easier for them to pollute legally) to be convinced that the environment has no greater foe than George W. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush! I urge anyone reading this to please vote in November and consider how your vote may affect the environment. Our natural resources need protection from another four years of abuse.
Endangered Seabird Could Lose Protection:
U.S. Ruling on Marbled Murrelet
Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
The Bush administration, overriding opinions by the western office
of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department
of Fish and Game, issued a decision Wednesday that environmentalists
said would weaken protection for the marbled murrelet, an elusive
seabird. The ruling, which takes effect immediately, says that the population
of murrelets in California, Oregon and Washington is not genetically
or ecologically distinct from a larger population that extends
through Canada and Alaska. Environmentalists criticized the decision, saying that if the
murrelet numbers in the three states -- where fewer live -- are
lumped together with the greater numbers to the north, the birds
could lose existing protection as a threatened species under the
federal Endangered Species Act. Hard to spot by the most avid birders, the dove-sized marbled
murrelet breeds high in dark, cool, old-growth redwoods and other
conifers and flies to the coastline to feed. They live on the shore
when it's not nesting time. Along with the northern spotted owl, the seabird has stopped logging
on both public and private lands on the Pacific coast. California
lists the marbled murrelet as endangered under the California
Endangered Species Act.
Fish and Wildlife officials said that in the short term, the new
determination will have no effect on logging plans. But after the
population in the entire range is assessed, the murrelet could
possibly lose its federal threatened status. David Patte, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in
Portland, said the decision out of Washington, D.C., overturned an
April recommendation by the Pacific regional office, which had
advised that the southern murrelets continue to be protected as a so-
called "distinct population segment.'' They concluded that the birds
do differ genetically from their northern cousins, which are found
from Puget Sound to the Alaska Peninsula and in the Aleutian
"There was a change from what the regional panel said," Patte said.
However, he added, because the regional office doesn't often make
such determinations, "it's not unusual for Washington to make a
change in a policy call.'' Esther Burkett, a state wildlife biologist with responsibility for
murrelet recovery, said that last year, the California Department of
Fish and Game sent a memo to the Fish and Wildlife Service, saying
that "the best available scientific information indicates the
murrelet is still in need of state listing as endangered in
California, and that populations continue to decline.''
In response to Wednesday's ruling, six environmental groups,
including the Portland Audubon Society and Earthjustice, issued a
statement warning that the decision was the first step in the
delisting of the murrelets in California, Oregon and Washington. "It's unfortunately another example of the Bush administration
ignoring science and reason so that it can serve its campaign
contributors in the logging industry,'' contended Cynthia Elkins,
program director at the Environmental Protection Information Center
in Garberville (Humboldt County). She said the marbled murrelets in the Alaskan Peninsula and the
Aleutians are doing better than the Pacific Northwest birds because
they nest on the ground and don't need the ancient forests, which
are declining nationwide.
The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 15,000 to 35,000 murrelets
live in the three states, with about 820,000 acres suitable for
habitat. About 18 percent of that acreage is in California. A report prepared for Fish and Wildlife by a private contractor said
the murrelet population in the Pacific Northwest declined 10 percent
over the last 10 years, with the worst showing in California.
Without better protection, the murrelet could be extinct here in 40
years, the report said.